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Odds of Playing College Football

Awe Video College Football Recruiting: Odds of playing college football pie chart.
The odds of a high school football player playing at the college level.

The data and calculations used in the above College Football Recruiting Odds Chart and what will be introduced below (except for where noted) are derived from the NCAA’s most recent 2018 data extracted from the 2016-2017 High School Athletic Participation Survey, conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

The odds of getting a college scholarship to play football. Image of football player celebrating.

Thanks to the NCAA data, all we need to determine the true odds of a high school football player receiving a full student-athletic scholarship (room, tuition and board) are the answers to the following questions:

  • How many college football programs actually offer full student-athletic scholarships?
  • What is the approximate average number of full student/athletic football scholarships do these schools hand out each year?

Number of Colleges Offering Full Scholarships for Football

There are currently 424 NCAA football member schools that have the permission and capacity to provide full student-athletic scholarships:

  • 130 NCAA Football Bowl Series (FBS), Division 1-A
  • 125 NCAA Football Championship Series (FCS), Division 1-AA
  • 169 NCAA Division II (D-II)

In addition to these 424 NCAA football programs, there are 96 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) football member schools that are also capable of providing full scholarships.

I used the phrase "capable of providing full scholarships” because only the NCAA FBS and FCS member schools actually offer almost all of their prospects a full student-athletic scholarship.

The NCAA allows each of its FBS member schools to carry a maximum of 85 full-scholarship student-athletes on their team, while the FCS members are allowed to carry up to 63 scholarship players.

NCAA D-II programs are only allotted to carry an equivalent of 36 full scholarships per member team. D- II rules and regulations regarding their allotment of scholarship players are a little too convoluted to go into a lot of detail here, except to say—the bottom line is that some D-II players receive full scholarships but most of them get partial scholarships.

NCAA Division III teams are listed in our College Football Recruiting Odds Chart: however, these member schools are forbidden by NCAA rules to offer any kind of student-athletic scholarships. They rely on enticing their potential recruits with financial aid packages and plans, where in most cases the aid received does not cover the full costs of going to college. 

NAIA member schools are an entirely separate entity from the NCAA with their own governing body and rules. They are similar in competition level to the NCAA D-III but unlike the D-III members, the NAIA schools are allowed to hand out scholarships. The problem is no one really knows the average number of full scholarships they offer But we do know that a small percentage of the NAIA football-member schools do not offer any scholarships at all.

Unquestionably, the data we know shows the NCAA's FBS and FCS member schools provide the lion's share of full scholarships to high school football players, with the NCAA Division II schools kicking in most of the rest. Therefore, from this data and a little bit of "guesstimation" about the NAIA, we can derive reasonably accurate odds of a senior high school football player receiving a full student-athletic scholarship.

Breaking Down the Numbers

On average each NCAA FBS member school has about 22 or so full student/athletic scholarships available per year to hand out to high school prospects. Remember, each FBS school cannot have more than 85 full scholarship players at the same time. Accordingly, the FCS schools—limited to 63 scholarships, have on average 16 or so per year to dish out. I will have to make an educated estimation, based on the data we know, that each D-II member school averages handing out around the equivalent of 7 full scholarships per year. As for the NAIA—it's anyone's guess but I'll settle on each of their members giving out the equivalent 5 per year.

  • 130 FBS schools x  22 = 2,860
  • 125 FCS schools x 16 = 2,000
  • 169 D-II  schools x   7 = 1,183
  • 96 NAIA schools x   5 =    480

The approximate yearly average of full student-athletic scholarships available for football = 6,343.

So, taking the derived approximate value of 6,343 full scholarships available and dividing it by the estimated number of 264,346 senior high school football players from the class of 2016-2017 (as noted in our College Football Recruiting Odds Chart), we get 2.4% or 1 out of every 42 senior high school football players will receive a full scholarship offer. Delving deeper into the numbers, only about 1% or 1 out of every 92 senior high school football players will get a full scholarship to play at the highest level in the NCAA FBS.

Related Links

How to Manage the College Football Recruiting Process

2022-2023 NCAA Football Recruiting Calendars (Simplified)

Contact College Football Coaches (Complete Listing for Each School)